There’s Plenty of Innovation Going On In Washington–You Just Have to Know Where to Find It


Share on LinkedIn

Sequestration. Bloated agencies. The Fiscal Cliff. When it comes to inefficiency and wasteful spending, my city, Washington DC, beats your city. In fact, economist Milton Friedman once quipped that if you randomly grouped any three or four alphabetic characters, you would name a Federal agency that, if eliminated, would never be missed. But despite Washington’s well-deserved reputation for stultifying red tape, our region has become a thriving innovation hub.

Friedman would be surprised, if not amazed. For entrepreneurs housed in the region’s start-up incubators, tech acronyms like API, XML, AJAX, and HTML are just as likely to hold important meaning as Federal ones like FDA, OSHA, FCC, and BLS. And the focus on entrepreneurship and technology starts early. Last month, Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public magnet school, hosted its first Hackathon “in which whoever makes the coolest product wins.” Over 140 students participated in the 24-hour event, and sponsors, which included Facebook, MoDev, Amazon Web Services, and Sapient, awarded prizes.

Not every project made it from concept to code, but most did, and each student team able to build demo-ready software had three minutes to show it off to an auditorium of peers, and a panel of judges. Some created mobile games or developed collaborative planning software to handle the complexities of homework projects. There were innovations for use outside of high school, including a socially-fueled online suggestion box, and a real-time mobile app to help people cope with stress. One group created a remarkable technology that makes it possible to identify objects from digital photographs. The team explained how they derived a digital outline from a photo using Fibonacci numbers somewhere in the algorithm. Don’t ask me how it works.

For companies ready to move beyond the innovation starting gate, a well-established regional venture capital community assists in funding them. Lately, I’ve attended some local TechBreakfasts that showcase early-stage companies, and offer the same excitement as grade school show-and-tell, adding great adult perks like caffeine and conversations about money. Among the best home-grown products I’ve seen at these events:

Learnshark, which provides a social learning tool that shortens the time it takes new employees to learn about a company, its industry, customers, and competitors.

Ridepost, which has developed a social community for travelers who want to share transportation needs, including finding a ride, or offering one to someone who needs it.

Subject7, a QA (Quality Assurance) product that enables web developers to test applications through automation, and to shorten development cycles.

EWC Presenter, a cloud solution that combines disparate software tools to enable marketers to create animations, web presentations, landing pages, graphics, banner ads, and more.

Smartrdocs, which takes the drudgery and cost out of creating and modifying complex documents such as contracts and proposals.

Opiatalk, a Groupon-like e-commerce application engineered to increase purchase transactions, drive traffic to e-commerce websites, and decrease shopping cart abandonment.

Survey-Snap, a mobile solution designed for engineers that is basically a platform that captures and collects unstructured data from the field and integrates it into a presentation.

“Having this kind of dynamic and entrepreneurial business community yields job opportunities and further enhances the quality of life in Fairfax County,” said Gerald L. Gordon, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, commenting on the fact that half of Virginia’s 50 fastest growing companies are located in the suburban DC county.

Sure, we’ve got plenty of inefficiency and waste. But next time you hear about legislative gridlock in Washington, or bureaucrats living large at taxpayer expense, come here to visit. No doubt you’ll see all of that firsthand, but I’ll show you some really cool things that are happening in technology. When it comes to innovation, Silicon Valley can’t have it all.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Well put Andrew and thank you for the mention of SmartrDocs ( . We are getting extremely positive response with our unique approach to secure role based simultaneous coauthoring and review with anytime anydevice access. In fact, SmartrDocs is world’s first simultaneous document authoring and review platform offering anytime anywhere any device editing capability with seamless bi-directional MS Word integration.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here